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SAUDI ARABIA - Exercise a high degree of caution
There is no nationwide advisory in effect for Saudi Arabia. However, you should exercise a high degree of caution due to the general threat of terrorist attacks.
The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The purpose of this Travel Advice is to provide up-to-date information to enable you to make well-informed decisions.
There is a terrorist threat throughout Saudi Arabia. Although no attacks have occurred since 2009, reports emerge periodically that terrorists plan to attack specific locations. These are typically accompanied by a visible increase in the presence of security forces. Targets could include government buildings, public areas, areas frequented by tourists and Western interests. Heightened security measures are currently in place and may be reinforced on short notice.
Security incidents occur in the southern province of Jizan, near the Yemeni border.
Maintain a high level of vigilance and personal security awareness at all times. Register with and carefully follow messages issued through the Registration of Canadians Abroad service.
There is a general threat of kidnapping in Saudi Arabia. Maintain a high level of vigilance at all times.
Demonstrations, although illegal in Saudi Arabia, have been occurring more frequently since 2011 and have the potential to suddenly turn violent. They can also lead to significant disruptions to traffic and public transportation. Avoid all demonstrations and large gatherings, follow the advice of local authorities and monitor local media.
The crime rate is low. Petty crime, such as pickpocketing and purse snatching, occurs, especially in crowded areas and at holy sites. To reduce the likelihood of becoming a victim, do not show signs of affluence and ensure that your personal belongings and passports and other travel documents are secure at all times.
Assaults against foreign women have occurred recently. Consult our publication entitled Her Own Way: A Woman’s Safe-Travel Guide for travel safety information for Canadian women.
Consult Laws & Culture for more information.
Saudi Arabia is one of the most dangerous places to drive because of poor driving habits, a complete disregard for traffic laws and road markings, and excessive speed—which are all common causes of accidents. Only use pre-arranged, licensed taxis. Avoid shared or service taxis.
If you are involved in an accident, do not disturb the scene until the traffic patrol arrives, do not make any financial arrangement with the other drivers and immediately contact your visa sponsor and the Canadian Embassy in Riyadh or the Consulate of Canada in Jeddah. In a traffic accident resulting in personal injury, regardless of fault, drivers may be held for several days until responsibility is determined and restitution is made. If severe injuries or death occur, compensation must be paid to the family for the injuries or loss of life.
Some Saudi cities have implemented an automated traffic ticketing system. All fines issued through this system must be paid before leaving the country. Payment can be made at the airport during regular Saudi office hours.
Do not drive off-road unless you are in a convoy of four-wheel-drive vehicles and with an experienced guide. Ensure you are well prepared with a sufficient supply of gasoline, water and food, and a cell phone. Leave your travel itinerary with a relative or friend.
Exercise caution if travelling by sea, including for recreational purposes, in the Persian Gulf, particularly around the disputed islands of Abu Musa and Tunbs. Iran and the United Arab Emirates each claim sovereignty over the islands.
Pirate attacks occur in coastal waters and, in some cases, farther out at sea. Mariners should take appropriate precautions. For additional information, consult the Live Piracy Report published by the International Chamber of Commerce.
Consult our Transportation Safety page in order to verify if national airlines meet safety standards.
General safety information
Carry identification documents, including your residency permit (iqama), at all times. Leave your passport in a safe place and carry a photocopy for identification purposes.
If you are stopped by the Mutawa (Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice); consult the Laws & Culture tab for more information), offer to accompany them to the nearest police station and do not hand over identification documents. Inform your sponsors if the police retain your documents.
Dial 999 for police, 998 for firefighters and 997 for an ambulance.
It is the sole prerogative of each country or region to determine who is allowed to enter. The following information on entry and exit requirements has been obtained from the Saudi Arabian authorities. However, these requirements are subject to change at any time. It is your responsibility to check with the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia for up-to-date information.
Official (special and diplomatic) passport holders must consult the Official Travel page, as they may be subject to different entry requirements.
Canadians must present a passport to visit Saudi Arabia, which must be valid for at least six months beyond the date of expected departure from that country.
It is illegal in Saudi Arabia to have two passports in your possession; if found, the second passport will be retained by Saudi authorities. See Laws & Culture for more information.
Canadians must be in possession of a visa to visit Saudi Arabia. You must obtain the visa before arrival in Saudi Arabia at one of the agencies authorized by the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Ottawa or, if you reside in a foreign country, at the nearest embassy or consulate of Saudi Arabia. Expect heavy penalties if you overstay the duration of your visa.
Visa applications must be sponsored by a Saudi citizen, company or organization. Upon arrival, you will be required to surrender your passport to your sponsor and obtain a residency card (iqama).
Women must be met by their sponsors at the port of arrival or risk being denied entry. To leave the country, women must seek their sponsor’s as well as their husband’s permission. Consult Laws & Culture for more information.
Entry and exit permits
Single-entry visa holders do not need an exit permit. Residents cannot leave the country without obtaining an exit or exit/re-entry permit (if they intend to return to Saudi Arabia) from the Saudi Ministry of Interior.
Your visa sponsor’s approval is required for these permits. The Embassy and Consulate of Canada cannot sponsor Canadians for an exit permit under any circumstance. The Embassy of Canada cannot intervene in entry or exit permit issues.
Import and export
All electronic devices entering or leaving Saudi Arabia are submitted to a thorough examination at international airports. Pirated or explicit materials will be confiscated. You may be detained or deported if you do not comply. If deported, you will be barred from re-entering Saudi Arabia.
The importation, use or possession of any item that is held to be contrary to the tenets of Islam, such as pornographic materials, drugs, alcohol and weapons, is prohibited.
Health entry requirements
You must produce a human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) test certificate and proof of a criminal background check if you intend to work in Saudi Arabia.
You may have to produce proof of polio vaccination.
Some countries require proof of yellow fever vaccination before allowing entry. Consult the World Health Organization’s country list to obtain information on this country’s requirements.
Hajj or Umrah visas are required for visiting pilgrims. These visas are valid for travel only in the vicinities of Jeddah, Mecca and Medina and for travel between these cities. Non-Muslims are forbidden to travel to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Pilgrims performing Umrah and Hajj must travel with a travel agency that is accredited with the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia. Contact the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia or consult the Saudi Ministry of Hajj website for more information.
Canadians have been denied entry into Saudi Arabia because their passports bore an Israeli visa, an Israeli border stamp or an Egyptian or Jordanian border stamp issued by an office bordering Israel. Such a stamp would indicate the traveller visited Israel prior to coming to Saudi Arabia.
If you are travelling in the Middle East, your passport could come under increased scrutiny by immigration authorities, and the authenticity of your passport could be questioned due to incidents of possible misuse. Contact the nearest Canadian government office or the Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa for advice and assistance.
Children and travel
Children need special documentation to visit certain countries. Please consult our Children page for more information.
The Agency strongly recommends that you consult with a travel medicine clinic or health care provider preferably six weeks before departure.
The Agency publishes travel health advice for Saudi Arabia.
Modern medical care is available in main cities. Adequate medical services are available in smaller cities. Immediate cash payment may be required.
Laws & Culture
Laws & Culture
You are subject to local laws. Consult our Arrest and Detention FAQ for more information.
The work week is from Sunday to Thursday.
An International Driving Permit is required.
Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Mutawa)
The Mutawa, also known as the Religious Police, have been known to harass, pursue and assault foreigners who they perceive are disregarding strict Saudi standards of conduct and dress. Often, they will simply instruct women to cover their hair. The Mutawa carry special identification and are typically accompanied by a uniformed police officer. If you are stopped by the Mutawa, cooperate and ask them to verify their credentials.
Dress and behaviour
The country’s customs, laws and regulations adhere closely to Islamic practices and beliefs. Dress conservatively, behave discreetly and respect religious and social traditions in order to avoid offending local sensitivities, especially in holy cities (Mecca and Medina) and mosques.
Women should observe the strict Saudi dress code and wear conservative and loose-fitting clothes, including a full-length cloak (abbaya) and a head scarf. Men should not wear shorts in public or go without a shirt. Seek guidance concerning acceptable clothing before your arrival.
Women are not permitted to drive cars or ride bicycles. Women and men are not allowed to mingle in public unless the women are accompanied by other family members. A woman can be charged with prostitution if she is found associating with a man who is not a relative. Restaurants have two sections, one for men only and the family section where families, accompanied females and unaccompanied females are served. Consult our publication entitled Her Own Way: A Woman’s Safe-Travel Guide for travel safety information for Canadian women.
Illegal or restricted activities
Do not criticize the royal family or Islam.
Do not discuss political or religious issues.
Religious proselytizing is not permitted.
Common-law relationships, homosexual relations, adultery and prostitution are illegal and are subject to severe punishment, including the death penalty.
Avoid physical contact, such as holding hands, in public.
Dancing, music and movies are prohibited.
Imported and domestic audio-visual media and reading materials are censored.
Penalties for the import, manufacture, possession and consumption of alcohol, pork, illegal drugs or products containing their ingredients are severe. Saudi authorities practise zero tolerance and make no distinction with respect to soft or hard drugs, or between using and trafficking. Drug offenders are regularly sentenced to death.
It is forbidden to photograph official buildings (government, military institutions, etc.) and holy sites. Seek permission prior to photographing individuals.
Dual citizenship is not legally recognized, which may limit the ability of Canadian officials to provide consular services. You should travel using your Canadian passport and present yourself as Canadian to foreign authorities at all times. Consult our publication entitled Dual Citizenship: What You Need to Know for more information.
Canadian women married to Saudi men and Canadians under 21 years of age with a Saudi father need the permission of the Saudi male head of the household to leave the country. Married women, no matter their husband’s citizenship, require their husband’s permission to leave the country, while all unmarried women, regardless of age, and unmarried men under the age of 21 require the permission of their father or male guardian to leave the country, irrespective of the father’s or guardian’s nationality.
A Saudi man who wishes to marry a foreign woman is required by law to seek the permission of Saudi authorities. He must also sign a document that gives irrevocable permission to his foreign wife and the children born of their union to travel in and out of the country without restrictions. This law has been in effect since February 20, 2008, and is not retroactive. Regardless of this law, the foreign spouse and their children may still have difficulty leaving Saudi Arabia whenever they wish.
The Saudi judicial system is based on Sharia law. The legal process may be slow and cumbersome. Those suspected of and witnesses to offences may be held for lengthy periods without access to legal counsel or consular officials. If access is granted, it may be severely limited by Saudi authorities.
Arabic is the only officially recognized language for business transactions.
Examine all conditions carefully and ensure that you fully understand them prior to accepting a job offer or signing a contract. Include oral understandings in the contract.
Obtain the services of an independent Saudi-based lawyer and ensure translation of all documents, especially the contract, in order to be fully aware of all conditions, limits and terms.
Seek legal advice from a Canadian or Saudi lawyer before signing any contract. If in doubt, seek advice from a lawyer in Canada. A list of local lawyers is available from the Embassy of Canada in Riyadh.
In case of a dispute, a Saudi complainant may prevent a foreigner from leaving the country until the dispute is settled.
The currency is the Saudi riyal (SAR). Credit cards and traveller’s cheques are widely accepted, especially in main cities.
Natural Disasters & Climate
Natural Disasters & Climate
Although Saudi Arabia is one of the driest countries in the world, heavy rains occur from time to time and can result in major flooding. This can severely affect overland travel and reduce the provision of essential services. Exercise caution, monitor local news and weather reports, and follow the advice of local authorities.
Shamals, sand-laden winds from the northern deserts, occur most frequent in early summer and can blow at 40-48 kilometres per hour for days, creating difficult driving conditions.
Riyadh - Embassy of Canada
Jeddah - Consulate of Canada
For emergency assistance after hours, call the Embassy of Canada in Riyadh and follow the instructions. You may also call the Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa at 613-996-8885.